Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Sometimes it’s just a ping pong game

by John Halverson

January 10, 2013

A new year means new starts.

Some people make New Year’s resolutions.

Some jump in the lake like they did at the annual Polar Plunge in Williams Bay that I covered last weekend.

More than one person told me they they took the plunge into icy Geneva Lake because everything else they do that year will be easy by comparison. Others talked about how it represented leaving the problems of 2012 behind.

We all know it’s not that simple. But we also hold on to such ideas like lucky charms.

Back in my running days, I did a New Year’s run every year. After watching the Polar Plunge, I wondered whether it was better to run in the cold for an hour or dive in frozen water for a few seconds.

After watching the elation from many of the participants at the plunge, I made a pledge to myself that I’d try it next year. Then, while driving home, I changed my mind. One 2014 resolution already broken and 2013 had barely begun.

For many years, I also made resolutions. Often they were big, complex lists. Sometimes, if I was lucky, they’d last for a month or two. They usually improved my life somewhat but then I became exhausted at trying so hard.

I recently read it’s better to have one resolution. The odds of success are so much higher. But how can you pin it down? There always seems to be so many things you want to improve upon. And why is that? It makes you wonder why we can’t leave well enough alone.

This year all that was moot because I just didn’t have time to even think about resolutions. It was hurrying to one place so you could mark it off your list and hurry to the next.

It was odd though, that the answer to the meaning of life question — or at least a small part of it — came Christmas Day. It wasn’t a present wrapped and delivered. It was a moment.

A ping pong game.

I found myself driving my youngest daughter and her boyfriend to the Milwaukee airport Christmas Day night. I say “found myself,” because I’d been moving so fast the previous few weeks I’d never taken the time to notice much of anything.

Because of the holiday, there were more people working at the airport than were flying. For once, I felt sorry for the airlines.

I’d let my daughter and her boyfriend off at the front, but thought better of such a brisk goodbye so parked the car and went in.

As I entered, my eyes flicked to two people playing ping pong. Yes, in the airport. Anyone who has frequented the airport in the last few years has probably noticed there’s a lone ping pong table just as you walk in from the parking lot.

I’d passed it more than once, wanting to test my skills but there was always a plane to catch or someone to meet.

This time was different. The two people playing were my daughter and her boyfriend.

Earlier in her visit, her boyfriend had commented about how strange it was to have a ping pong table at an airport.

It gave me an opportunity to brag about something I’d apparently never mentioned over the years.

“I’m an awesome ping pong player,” I announced.

At first I was embarrassed by my “who cares” comment, but to my surprise it made quite an impact on my daughter.

“I never knew!” she said. “Amazing what you learn about your parents.”

“I played my way through college,” I said, and then wondered if that was sending the right message about my collegiate work habits.

So it seemed like serendipity a few days later, when I saw them playing ping pong in that lonely airport.

At first, I was handed a paddle without a handle — apparently the airport has a limited ping pong budget. After a few bad volleys, I took the good paddle and gave the broken one to my daughter. What kind of father does that? My kind, apparently.

I was eventually able to show off a few spin shots and slams and then it was time to switch partners.

“Hey, Griffin,” I said to her boyfriend. “You’re next.”

Griffin is 6-foot-4, an athlete and 40 years younger than me. I knew my work was cut out for me.

This wasn’t a real game, but I was privately keeping score.

After a few volleys in which we played even, I got a serve past him. Then he hit one near the end of the table. I backed up and lobbed it as it neared the floor gave it a little extra spin. He got overanxious, as I expected he would, and hit it too far. Experience over athleticism.

That was it. Not only was I tired, but I’m old enough to stop a good thing before it gets old. I wanted it to end before the magic did.

We all laughed. It wasn’t about the game anymore or even my ping pong playing ego, and never mind that my opponents were playing with a broken paddle. It was about a daughter and her dad. As we parted, we shared a hug tighter than I’d felt or given in a long time.

“I love you, Dad,” she said.

“I love you, too, daughter.”

As I walked away I turned toward them one last time. They were both smiling. I hadn’t felt so much pleasure in a long time.

The hurried holidays had slowed down at the most unexpected moment.

Resolutions don’t usually work because they’re based on the assumption that we can manufacture happiness.

And we think that once we’ve felt it, we can keep the feeling, That’s why we take pictures. We can glory in those representations later, but they’re rarely as meaningful as the moment itself.

More often the magic comes, when you’re not trying, when you’re not looking for it, when you get torn away from the mess and busyness of whatever you’re working so hard at.

When you’re not expecting anything, an unscripted moment appears.

Here’s hoping 2013 is full of them — for all of us.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.